We are strange creatures.
For the last few years, I’ve been keeping a curious and slightly bemused eye on some of the more extreme conspiracy websites around the internet. It’s fascinating and depressing in equal measures. On the one hand, it’s deeply depressing to realise how many people are now vehemently anti-vaccine, who would rather believe in homeopathy, Flat Earth, Reiki, unicorns and Big Pharma-supressed cancer cures than science. On the other, reading about bizarre world views so opposed to one’s own is undeniably fascinating.
Tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists are everywhere. They walk amongst us, like awakened wolves amongst the sheeple, watching and judging, while staying one step removed, just in case the government tracks them down and drugs them into submission with fluoride and chemtrails.
Thanks to the echo chamber of the online world, what were once just a few harmless cranks down the pub have become united across the world, encouraging each other to drop their government-imposed crutches and walk. It’s possible to believe absolutely anything and still find a group of people who will not only agree with you, but will be willing companions as you jump blindly down the rabbit hole of TRUTH.
So, the reason for me meandering in this so far non-hexapod themed post is this.
Far too often, I'm sent questions via this website, or my springtail Facebook page, always from the United States, from people who think that their bodies are infested by springtails. This is part of a curious and bizarre set of beliefs called Morgellons Syndrome/Disease by its sufferers. Individuals believe that their skin is crawling with biting and burrowing insects and that they have mysterious fibres growing into the skin or exiting from self-inflicted wounds and scratches. Not surprisingly, Morgellons is always self-diagnosed and strongly insisted upon when sat in yet another disbelieving doctor’s surgery.
With a condition like Morgellons, apart from the usual evils lined up to blame, such as aliens, vaccines, government nanotechnology, the Illuminati and the devil, Collembola have often been singled out as the main culprits behind any bout of frenzied itching and crawling sensations. Someone's even made up a name for the specific sensations. Collemboliasis.
Any website dedicated to Morgellons will always have a few threads dedicated to springtails and how to get rid of them, from bathing in bleach, turpentine or insecticide, to scrubbing with nail brushes and detergent until the skin is raw. There are photos of the larval form, even though springtails don’t have one, as well as photos of debris, often drawn into with a pen to bring out shapes that might look like a springtail, if you had never seen one. Imagining patterns and inferring meanings where none exist is a well known human psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia.
People describe having hundreds of springtails in their clothes and hair, biting and burrowing under their skin, or entering through their tear ducts, even though a basic understanding of springtails would make you realise that they don't live on humans, they're not parasitic and can’t burrow or bite, let alone crawl upstream through your tears.
Samples are repeatedly sent to ‘specialists’- usually pest exterminators who are happy to make a positive identification based on the money they’re about to make. Houses are turned upside-down, belongings sprayed or burned, all to stop the itching and scratching.
There are reports of skin 'glitter' which can only be dried springtail sperm, and tales of multiple experiments using springtails in aerial crop-spraying, where the all the online articles disappeared one day, mysteriously excised wholesale from the internet.
Then there's a whole cluster of theories about the links between Morgellons and the ever popular chronic Lyme disease, or that Morgellons is being caused by 'a combination of GMO and chemtrail Bio/polymer assaults'. No, me neither. But at least there's no mention of Collembola.
Even Frans Janssens, of collembola.org gets to be accused of being a Collembola shill. Whatever that is.
The Wikipedia article on Morgellons has been targeted specifically by Morgellons groups, as it persists in calling it a delusory parasitosis, which, with the best will in the world, it is.
Morgellons Syndrome is a very recent phenomenon and along with chronic Lyme disease, seems to be one of the first purely internet-spread delusional skin conditions. There’s no denying that some people suffer terribly from persistent, vague itching, often scratching the skin enough to make it bleed, with the wound picking up fibres and fluff. It's also true that imagining an itch and actually having one can be impossible to tell apart, both for a sufferer and a doctor. However, the senseless scapegoating or scapespringtailing of Collembola… well, I have to say, that's one thing that really gets under my skin.